Story: Scott has interviewed 28 candidates for a job opening with his firm, but so far isn’t pleased with what he’s seen. After all, Scott runs Legacy Letters, a company that crafts suicide notes for its clientele. He’s searching for someone with just the right combination of style and substance who can reassure customers that their last words will have meaning and impact.
The 28th applicant, Jason, convinces Scott that he’s the man for the job. Jason, a young man who has worked hard to raise his brother Tommy since the death of their parents, shows Scott a sample of his writing for Hallmark cards and the latter is suitably impressed. Scott and his assistant, Perry, welcome Jason to the team and quickly test him with a potential new client, Norm. It seems that Norm is devastated that his wife has left him, and now his misery has been compounded with the loss of his job.
Jason coaches Norm with his would-be suicide note under the watchful eye of Scott, who dreams of franchising Suicide, Incorporated nationwide and making a killing, so to speak, on the largely untapped market of men who contemplate ending their lives. There’s a lot at stake for Scott financially if Jason proves his mettle as a conscientious employee. But what if Jason has ulterior motives?
Highlights: A one-act work by playwright Andrew Hinderaker, Suicide, Incorporated debuted in 2010 at Chicago’s Gift Theatre and was included on the Chicago Tribune’s list of top-rated productions that year. R-S Theatrics produced the St. Louis premiere in 2011 as a staged reading that handsomely conveyed the dark humor and clever twists in Hinderaker’s drama. Now, R-S Theatrics is producing a fully staged version that reunites five of the original six cast members for their fine interpretation of Hinderaker’s beguiling script.
Other Info: Director Christina Rios plays the action out on a suitably depressing set filled with bland accoutrements including a folding table and chairs that serve as Scott’s office, a tiny couch and coffee table representing Jason’s apartment and a tiny café table and chairs back stage center that serve as an off-site meeting place for Jason and Norm. Cat Baelish dresses the guys in undistinguished attire that matches their personae and Dave Hahn puts the action under the glare of his harsh lighting. Scene changes, though, are a bit awkward at times, given the constraints of the performing space.
On the night I saw the production, the show seemed stilted and out-of-sync at first, as the players appeared to struggle to get into the story. Charlie Barron’s arrival as Norm, though, was the fuel needed to propel this production with the crackling energy of the company’s previous presentation.
Weller dominates the story as the business-driven Scott. He depicts the callous behavior of this edgy entrepreneur as much with his looks and expressions when he’s not involved in dialogue as when he’s exploding like wayward fireworks at anyone within his voice’s obnoxious range. He serves as a suitable catalyst for Mark Kelley’s more introspective and mysterious Jason, a former volunteer worker at a suicide hot-line prevention clinic.
Kelley’s serious and straight-laced demeanor as the pensive Jason contrasts nicely with Aaron Dodd’s measured interpretation of Jason’s laid-back brother, Tommy, who has an ability to get under Jason’s skin with his indifferent approach to college as well as to his life’s future. Kelley also works in fine tandem with Barron, who underscores Norm’s anguish and despair with a beautifully calibrated performance. Barron expertly depicts Norm’s increasing anxiety as he gradually reveals his character’s sad and troubling history.
Mark Saunders suitably plays Scott’s minion of an employee, Perry, a man who is willing to sublimate his own dignity to uplift Scott’s moral turpitude. Andrew Keller nicely rounds out the cast as a police officer who regularly works with Scott on the details of the deaths of his sad clientele.
Interestingly, Hinderaker abandons one logical ending for his tale in a key scene with Scott and chooses instead to elongate the story for another 10 minutes or so. The resulting conclusion is decidedly different but not necessarily better, and extends this thoughtful play needlessly as a result. Still, Suicide, Incorporated is one of those efforts that rewards its audience by challenging both the mind and the heart with its intriguing characters and the motivations behind them.
Play: Suicide, Incorporated
Group: R-S Theatrics
Venue: Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle
Dates: November 16, 17, 18
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Michael Young